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American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice


Vol. 7, No. 2




Redefining Work/Life Balance

By Kevin Chern

The legal profession is often cited as one of the most stressful career paths in the world, and some studies even suggest that attorneys show higher than average rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicides. On top of that, many attorneys are natural workaholics. Add those factors to the competitive work market, and it is no wonder that many attorneys have begun to explore the idea of “work/life balance.”

When people talk about work/life balance, however, they tend to focus on things like flex time, dress-down Fridays, and maternity leave. In a recent TED Talk, Nigel Marsh observed, “People spend long hours to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like. It’s my contention that going to work in jeans on a Friday isn’t really getting to the nub of the issue.”

So, what is “the nub of the issue”? If we want to avoid high stress in a highly stressful industry, we have to change the way we view work/life balance. Although things like technology and outsourced services can help us get our work done more efficiently, work/life balance is not about just taking time off from work or learning how to do our work on the go. According to Marsh, we should change the way we view work/life balance in four ways:

1. We have to acknowledge the fact that certain career choices are fundamentally incompatible with being fully engaged in family life if we want to have an honest discussion. That means you may have to make choices between work and family and decide for yourself which parts of your life should be high priority.

2. We cannot put quality of life in the hands of others. Governments, corporations, and our clients will take whatever they can get out of their citizens, employees, and attorneys, so it is up to us to set and enforce the boundaries we want in our lives.

3. Next, we have to reset the timeframe on which we judge balance in our lives. Although we shouldn’t wait until retirement to be happy and relaxed, we cannot make every day perfect. You may need to put in extra hours on a Monday so that you can take a vacation on Friday.

4. Finally, it is important to approach balance in a balanced way. Many attorneys define success by income or billable hours, but if we want to define success as it applies to achieving a balanced life, we have to include factors that have nothing to do with job success. Though you may be able to take on a heavy caseload or bring in high volumes of new clients, are you also putting in the same efforts to create success in the intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and physical parts of your life?

Marsh concluded his speech with an excellent point: by investing more energy in the success of all aspects of our life, we can transform society’s definition of success from the “moronically simplistic notion that the person with the most money when he dies wins to a more thoughtful and balanced definition of what a life well-lived looks like.” Are you striving for success in just your law firm, or are you striving for success in all areas of your life?

Kevin Chern is president of Total Attorneys, a leading provider of marketing and practice management services to small law firms, serving solo attorneys and small law firms nationwide. Previously, he was managing partner of the country’s largest consumer bankruptcy law firm. Under his direction, a staff of 180 employees in 19 states served approximately 450 new clients each week. He is also an author and a contributing writer to several legal blogs. For more info, visit Kevin on the web at

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